After three years of fighting in the courtroom, artist Robert Indiana’s estate and the artist’s former business associate announced Friday that they had agreed to resolve the litigation that cost the estate millions of dollars and tarnished the market for a man who for works as known is the sculpture “LOVE”.
In a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Morgan Art Foundation, business associate James W. Brannan, the personal representative for Indiana’s estate, and Jamie L. Thomas, Indiana’s former janitor, said they would drop the claims and counterclaims that had begun at the time of Indiana, Maine’s death in May 2018 at the age of 89.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
The legal back and forth that would otherwise have flowed into a project determined by the artist’s will, the endeavor to convert his old home on the remote island of Vinalhaven, more than an hour ferry ride off the coast of Maine, into a museum to preserve his artistic heritage to commemorate.
Larry Sterrs, chairman of the Star of Hope Foundation, a nonprofit that Indiana created in his will to lead conversion, said he was happy to be part of the conversation that led to the final settlement.
“The Star of Hope looks forward to our partnership with Morgan in the marketplace and accelerating work on our mission,” he said in a statement.
The lengthy legal battle began around the time of Indiana’s death with a lawsuit from the Morgan Art Foundation. The for-profit company owns the rights to produce versions of several of Indiana’s best-known works, including “LOVE”. In court records, the company accused Thomas and a New York art publisher of isolating the artist in the last few years of his life while creating unauthorized or falsified versions of his work.
These works included BRAT, a giant sausage sculpture and homage that was commissioned by a Wisconsin sausage maker. To further question Indiana’s role in the late work of art, Morgan presented a video posted on social media in 2013 by one of the publisher’s studio assistants at the time, showing an automatic signature machine signing Indiana prints.
Thomas and the publisher denied the allegations, and the publisher said the machine had Indiana’s blessings.
In counterclaims, the estate accused the Morgan Company in court records of defrauding Indiana for the license fees it was entitled to under the license agreement, which they denied.
The uncertainty created by the litigation affected the Indiana market. Morgan said the deal would end that uncertainty by creating a partnership between the Morgan company and the Star of Hope Foundation.
“This settlement is an excellent outcome for everyone involved,” Morgan’s attorney Luke Nikas said in a statement.
Thomas attorneys were among the signatories of the filing with the District Court. But the deal doesn’t include New York art publisher Michael McKenzie, who said in an interview that he was surprised that the estate of the artist, who fought Morgan so fiercely, should now be ready to reach an agreement that would allow it It would enable companies to cooperate with the foundation.
McKenzie, who has had a contract with Indiana since 2008 for the production and sale of works based on his “HOPE” sculpture, remains in separate litigation with both Indiana’s estate and Morgan.
He remains open to an agreement with both parties, but said he could also challenge the deal announced on Friday. “I can take this apart,” McKenzie said.
Brannan, the personal representative of the Indiana’s estate, said in a statement: “The future is bright for the market and legacy of Robert Indiana, and the estate is pleased to have contributed to this success.”